Some of Flett's pillows, top row, from left: “Gigi the Kitten,” “Mod Tulip,” “Coffee Rings” and “Stacked Deco”; bottom row from left: “Froggie,” “Wind,” “Bruiser the Pup” and “Logs.”
Erin Flett had a hard time finding pillows she liked.
Being a graphic designer and the daughter of an antiques dealer, she has pretty discriminating tastes. She appreciates good design, vibrant color and quality materials.
When Flett began to think about making her own pillows, she realized that putting her creativity and designs into a pillow would be a more permanent manifestation of her talents.
By comparison, the work she creates for brochures and pamphlets as a graphic designer are fairly fleeting.
"I liked the idea of creating something more permanent for people's homes, and I loved the idea of creating something that people connect with comfort," said Flett, 37, of Gorham. "The other thing I love about pillows is that they're such an easy thing in a room to switch out, to add a pop of color to a room without a big commitment."
On the other hand, Flett made a big commitment about two years ago when she launched her own line of pillows and textiles under the name "Erin Flett: Designs for the Stylish Soul."
Her designs, on pillows especially, have gained her attention from national magazines like O: The Oprah Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens and Yankee. Her work has also been touted on home design blogs and websites, helping her build her business.
After the piece in O magazine earlier this year, Flett said, she did about four times as much business as she normally does. The magazine showed several of Flett's pillows with designs inspired by her daily life with her husband and two daughters, ages 4 and 8, in Gorham.
One of the pillows in the Oprah spread is called "Crescent Moon," and features a repeating patterns of various stages of the moon.
"We do a lot of campfires outside, looking at the night sky, and the girls are always suggesting things for designs," said Flett. "The squirrel and frog (designs) I do came from critters we saw. We were at the beach and the girls saw some crabs, and told me I've got to do a crab pillow."
Flett sells a frog pillow called "Froggie," because, she says, every frog she and her daughters catch is named "Froggie."
Flett's pillows range from about $35 to $79, keeping with her idea that a well-crafted, eye-catching pillow can be an affordable element that makes a room feel different or new.
Flett's pillows and textiles stand out not only for the way they look, but the way they're made and feel.
One of the fabrics she uses -- a reproduction of a 1950s-vintage bark cloth -- has an emotional significance for her.
Growing up in Colorado, her mother was an antiques dealer who collected vintage bark cloth. So Flett spent many a weekend "junking" with her mother and looking for antiques and bark cloth.
"I looked all over before I found (bark cloth) I could use for my pillows. It has a nubby, textural feel," said Flett. "And it's something I have an emotional connection to."
She also makes pillows and other textiles such as bags and wall hangings using oatmeal twill made from recycled soda bottles. She's proud of the fact that she looks hard for materials that are American-made (it was hard to find a U.S. zipper maker, she says), and she has the pillows stitched by local folks working from their homes in southern Maine.
Much of the work is done at Flett's home, where she and her family come up with design ideas for her to work with. The designs are burned onto a screen, then put on the fabric using a large silk screening table in Flett's basement.
Her husband, Maslen Flett, a finish carpenter, applies the designs to fabric using a water-based, solvent-free ink and a squeegie.
"He puts the fabric down, runs a squeegie over it one piece at a time, then hangs it to dry," said Flett.
Flett sells online (erinflett.com) to homeowners and to wholesalers, including various Maine stores.
"The colors are fabulous, and the bark cloth is really organic and natural. They have a vintage feel but they go with any house," said Hilary Sinauer, owner of Blanche + Mimi in Portland's Old Port. "People love the graphic-ness. They're not the obvious prints."
Flett went to the University of Kansas to study graphic design, then moved to Maine after her mother began running an antique business, Wales & Hamblen, in Bridgton.
Flett started her own graphic design company and produced lots of work for companies and individuals.
But her artistic designs prompted clients to suggest she should put her artwork on things other than stationery or brochure covers.
"People would say things like, 'This looks great on my wedding invitation, but it would look killer on my sofa,' " said Flett. "I realized I needed a way to express the art part of what I do, and this was a way to do it."
Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:
Designer Erin Flett with a silk screen used in her work.
Colorful ink in the studio.
Two Flett creations.